20 Tips for Career Success
This is the first article in a series that will take you through my 20 tips for career success. Each month, I’ll be releasing a new tip. Let’s start with what this article series is not: it is not all-encompassing. Rather, this series is intended to be one person’s commentary on actions that can lead to career success. Before we begin, I should share that like most great ideas, these are all stolen… stolen from various mentors, advisors, peers and friends that I have interacted with throughout my career. In an effort to give credit where credit is due, I’d like to point out a few of those individuals in this first post (rather than break my train of thought within each tip… or worse require myself to try to remember where each of these came from). If you do not care to know where the ideas for these tips for career success originated and would rather give me all the credit by getting straight to the bacon, please feel free to skip ahead to Tip 20 below.
Dwayne Thompson – Dr. Thompson was my capstone professor in undergrad, and still to this day his “DT’s 20 tips for career success” stick with me. Let’s call a spade a spade and acknowledge that this article is a brainchild of that series of tips he shared with us so long ago. My number one overall tip came directly from DT and has been what I have based my entire career around.
Jeff Wade – Jeff was my first boss when I started consulting at Market Street Solutions (yes I’m advertising another partner… crazy right?) and gave me tons of advice around professionalism, travel tips, and going above expectations. I’m confident that many of these tips are stolen directly from his advice and I definitely appreciate it Jeff!
Jeff Hall – Jeff was my mentor at my first analytics job. He taught me how to be professional in a business setting and gave me a ton of great advice about public speaking and presenting. Without his influence, I would not be the speaker that I am today.
Neil Morgan – Neil was my first boss to give me true leadership opportunities (allowing me to manage a group of other people and a profit center of the business). Since that time, he has continued to mentor me and help me to understand what it takes to run a small business successfully.
Sam Fatigato – Sam was my boss via acquisition and an incredible mentor. He has successfully grown and sold two incredible IBM consulting practices, yet he always makes time for others and works to help them in their careers. His advice has been invaluable just in the last five years that I have known him. Thank you Sam.
All of my friends and co-workers (many of which overlap) – my friends, and particularly my friends that I have had the pleasure of working with, have been incredible influences in my career. They continuously call me out when I am losing focus and help me to improve my professional soft skills. I know that many of these tips were derived from advice I have received from many of you. So, thank you.
The tips that will come each month in this series are in reverse order of my perceived importance. In other words, we will be counting down to what I believe to be the most important tip for career success that I have ever received. However, feel free to pick and choose from these as you wish. Not all tips will work for all people, but I am confident that some of these will work for you.
Tip 20: Decide What to Be and Go Be It
OK, this is cheesy. But it is something that so many people do not do! If you do not get the reference, it is an obscure line in one of my favorite songs.
To understand the premise for this piece of advice, you first have to understand the history of the word “career”. The origin of the word comes from the word carrus, which means a wheeled vehicle. So, how did we get from the same Latin root as car to a word that defines work? When the term career was first used, it was to describe a “running of a course by a chariot at full-speed”. In 1803, the term was used to describe “the course of a working life”. Sadly, the idea of “at full-speed” had not fallen from the meaning at that time. You may be asking, “What’s wrong with running the course of your career at full-speed?” I would argue that it could be there is absolutely nothing wrong with taking such an approach to your work and career. It all depends on how you answer two questions:
Are you on the right course?
How is your career impacted by you running it at full-speed?
Unfortunately, I think all too many of us find ourselves on the wrong course running in a race that we cannot win, because we are running it too quickly to see what winning really is.
Are You on the Right Course?
Why is it that so many people take jobs straight out of school and stay in those career paths forever? I have been at countless parties and social get-to-gathers where I have spoken with friends and acquaintances who absolutely hate their jobs. So, why do so many people stay in jobs they hate? I hypothesize it is either A.) they are too risk averse to take a chance on something new or B.) no one has ever told them what my mom told me my entire life, “you can be whatever you want to be”. I encourage everyone reading this to stop right now and ask yourself a really tough question: do you love what you do? If you cannot say yes to that question, develop a plan to transition into doing something that you do love. Does this mean you absolutely need to quit your job tomorrow? By all means, no. Does it mean you might need to quit your job soon? It could. If you find yourself on the wrong course for your career, the best thing you can do is to come up with a plan for getting on the right course. Maybe you do not love what you do, but you love the company and the people you work with. You should talk to your boss about what you are passionate about and try to take your career at that company in that direction. Maybe you love what you do, but you are not a fan of your company. You should talk to others that do what you do and try to find a new place to spend 40+ hours of your week.
How is Your Career Impacted by You Running It at Full Speed?
Running the course of work at full speed can look different for different people. For some, it could mean focusing so much on the next promotion or next stepping point in our careers that we become workaholics. For others, it could mean that we get stuck in the same rut of daily routine that we never take the time to step back and see what we are really working toward. Both of these approaches can be dangerous in their own ways. For the former, you will find yourself at the end of your career never satisfied, because there was always one more step you could have taken. Even some of the most successful people in the World who are always driven by “the next step” never reach the pinnacle of Maslow’s hierarchical needs: self-actualization. As such, they will inevitably end their careers dissatisfied. For the latter, people who fall into the daily grind of getting up, going to work, sitting at their desk and doing the same job for years are going to someday realize that they have wasted a huge portion of their lives doing something that had no meaning for them. It is far too easy to fall into the daily grind of work (and life for that matter). When we do, it is hard to come up for air and ask if what we are doing with so much of our lives and our time is really meaningful to us. Now is a chance to pause, take a breath and ask yourself: am I pushing so hard toward career success that I have lost the joy of work? Am I stuck in a routine where I am just going through the motions to get through another day of work? Am I running through my career too quickly for it to be a meaningful part of my life?
Too much of our lives are spent working to not love what we are doing. I am thrilled to be able to say that I love my full-time job as Managing Partner for PMsquare and my hobby job as the owner of a small brewery (Cahoots Brewing in Chicagoland area, for those that do not know). Between PMsquare and Cahoots, I could not be happier with what I do, and I want that for everyone. If everyone loved what they did, just imagine how much better-off and more productive we would be. Imagine how much better you would feel when you get home each day. Imagine how much more satisfied you could be with your life. Now stop imagining. Go do it!
I hope you found this article on tips for career success useful. In my next article I cover Tip 19: Set Goals and Self-Review. You can get more business and analytics content on our blog and newsletter. If you haven’t already, be sure to subscribe to our e-newsletter the PMsquare Journal for more technical articles and updates delivered directly to your inbox.
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